After the Singapore Summit, a joint North Korea-America effort began to recover, return, and identify the remains of U.S. service personnel remaining behind at the end of the Korean War.


In the wake of the failed Hanoi Summit, that effort is now being halted.

In a new sign of troubled relations with North Korea, the Pentagon said Wednesday it has suspended its efforts to arrange negotiations on recovering additional remains of U.S. service members killed in the North during the Korean War.

In a statement Wednesday, the Pentagon’s Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency said it has had no communication with North Korean authorities since the Hanoi summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in February. That meeting focused on the North’s nuclear weapons and followed a June 2018 summit at which Kim committed to permitting a resumption of U.S. remains recovery, which had been suspended by the U.S. in 2005.

“As a result, our effort to communicate with the Korean People’s Army regarding the possible resumption of joint recovery operation for 2019 has been suspended,” the agency said. “We have reached the point where we can no longer effectively plan, coordinate, and conduct field operations in the DPRK during this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, 2019.”

Last summer’s summit ultimately resulted in North Korea returning 55 boxes of presumed U.S. remains from the war, a milestone on the previously futile efforts to recover the fallen from the conflict.

With the recovery effort on hold, the DPAA says that it’s now “assessing possible next steps in resuming communications” with the North Koreans about potential plans for joint operations in the 2020 fiscal year.

News that part of the Pentagon is having trouble communicating with North Korea’s military comes as the NK News site reports similar problems in diplomatic circles, citing officials who say they’re seeing a pattern of meetings being canceled and telephone calls ignored.

Despite the setback for the recovery program, the DPAA continues to work on identifying remains of U.S. soldiers and other personnel, applying DNA analysis and other scientific tools to try to match them with personnel and health records. So far in 2019, it has identified more than a dozen soldiers from the Korean War. Most of those remains had been in U.S. custody for decades, awaiting official identification through advanced means.

In my last analysis of the North Korean situation, I noted that there are reports that North Korea has had its worst harvests in a decade. Now, it appears that the U.S. will not prevent the South Koreans sending food aid to the north.

U.S. President Donald Trump expressed support for South Korea’s possible humanitarian assistance to the North during a phone call with President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday, the latter’s office said.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked at a meeting with reporters Wednesday if Trump will go along with the plan despite the North’s firing of projectiles last week.

“Our position in regards to North Korea is going to continue to be the maximum pressure campaign. Our focus is on the denuclearization,” Sanders said, referring to the U.S.-led sanctions aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons program.

“If South Korea moves forward on that front, we’re not going to intervene,” she added.